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Vigneault, Hitchcock weigh in on scoring debate

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Two interesting voices were heard weighing in on the ongoing debate about scoring being down again this season and what, if anything, the NHL could or should do about it.

Prior to their game Thursday at Madison Square Garden, New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault and St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock were asked about the issue that was raised at the NHL General Managers meeting Tuesday in Toronto.

The NHL is on pace to have the fewest goals scored this season since 2003-04. There has been an average of 5.34 goals per game to date, according to hockeyreference.com. That's down from 5.46 last season and from 6.17 per game in 2005-06.

The GMs discussed if they want or need to address the issue of scoring, and potential ways to create more goals in the game, all the way from reducing the size of the goalie equipment to making the nets bigger.

Vigneault started by saying he's not in favor of changing the size of the nets, which would be a last-resort option, NHL senior executive vice president Colin Campbell said. Vigneault stressed he thinks the game is good, that it's never been faster and the execution on the ice has never been better.

However, when it got to the topic of the goaltenders, if their equipment perhaps needs to be streamlined again because it is disproportionate in size compared to what they need to safely do their job, that's when Vigneault's opinion bubbled up and it was clear he has no sympathy for the forwards and defensemen struggling to score.

"Some people, they say there is not a lot of goals; it seems to me the hardest-working players on every team are the goaltenders," Vigneault said. "They're on 20 minutes before [practice], and they're on 20 minutes after. They work on their skill. They've all got their own coaches. They all work at their game more than anybody else. If the other guys want to score more goals, work at your game because the goalies are."

Vigneault said Rangers goalie coach Benoit Allaire reminds him about that all the time.

"He's got a point," Vigneault said. "Those guys work so hard. If you look at the last 15-20 years, where the game has changed so much, it's probably in that aspect. Those guys work. They work hard and long."

Hitchcock was asked if he buys Vigneault's assessment of the situation. He tangentially answered the question by saying he has no time for the discussion on the goalies, their equipment, bigger nets, or increasing scoring.

"I have a problem with the whole discussion," Hitchcock said. "We're in the entertainment business, and if a fan sits in the building and the game is hard-played and it's exciting and it's 2-1 or 3-2, and the fan can feel the intensity and they can feel the desire of the players, I don't think a fan leaves here wondering what the score was. It's whether it was a good game and a hard game and they could feel the intensity, or was it a poorly played, casual game? Fans want to see hard hockey. That's what they want to see in our sport. Whatever the score is, it ends up being."

Hitchcock agreed with Vigneault about the state of the game.

"To me, we get wrapped up in the score, whereas the game for me has never been better," he said. "It's never been harder to play for players. It's never been faster. It's never been more physical. There is no play in the neutral zone at all; it's in one zone or the other. Sometimes you go through seasons where the goalies are really good and you have to run with it, but to me, it's the intensity levels of the games. Nobody complains in a 2-1 game when it's two Central Division teams going at it and it's like single-game elimination, that's the intensity level of the game. Nobody cares what the score is, it's the level of the game.

"So we're addressing issues that for me are not relevant. What's relevant is what is the effort out there, what was the game like, and how did the fans enjoy it."

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